Theatre Review: All My Sons At Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Read Kaye Holland’s review of Regent’s Park Open Theatre’s revival of All My Sons – Arthur Miller’s first hit

For the quintessential British summer evening, look no further than the award winning Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – now in its 82nd season. We can’t guarantee it won’t rain (this is England) but the setting – a steeply raked auditorium with a 1,240 seating capacity slap bang in the middle of one of the capital’s prettiest parks – is spellbinding.

So too is Timothy Sheader’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Set in August 1947, in mid-west America, All My Sons –like so many of Miller’s plays – explores the themes of social responsibility and the downfall, not of a noble figure, but of the common man.  

The man in question is 61-year-old Joe Keller (Tom Mannion) –  a factory owner who knowingly let damaged aircraft engine parts leave his premises during the war, leading to the death of 21 American pilots, because he wanted to make a quick buck.

Joe allowed his deputy, Steve Deever, to take the wrap leaving him free to enjoy family life and prosperity. Mannion exudes such cheerful backyard bonhomie that you can’t help but be drawn to the patriarch, at least in the first act. Mannion makes it clear that Keller cherishes his family above all else and it was putting his family first (“I’m in business… I’m a man… I did it for you…” ) that caused Keller to sell thedefective cylinder heads to the American air-force.

This dichotomy is emphasised in Lizzie Clachan’s set design: a façade of an American family home, adorned with a gigantic advert of an impossibly squeaky clean family.

And so it proves in the second act when, as darkness falls in the park, Joe is forced to finally acknowledge his guilt and self deceit:  “they were all my sons.”

The supporting performances are no less astonishing. Brid Brennan shines as the brittle Kate, Joe’s wife, who stubbornly clings to the belief that her eldest son Larry – a wartime air-force pilot reported as missing in action – is still alive.  And Charles Aitken is compelling as Chris – the Keller’s idealistic, surviving son. There’s praise too for Amy Nuttall (of Downtown Abbeyfame) who shines as Chris’ wholesome yet realistic sweetheart, Ann.

Yet the real star is the late, great Arthur Miller whose breakthrough play about a family confronting the cost of capitalism remains just as relevant today as it did when it was written nearly 70 years ago. Chris’ cry –  “What kind of man are you?” – to his Father at the climax of this morality tale, as the ghosts of the 21 dead air men circle the stage, send shivers down the spine and provokes some serious soul searching.

All My Sons runs at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 7 June 2014.